Every year, millions of college basketball fans pick their brackets, act timidly when choosing a 14, 13 or 12 seed to advance, and then kick themselves when they watch it happen (or half watch it happen while pretending to work on the best Thursday and Friday in all of sports).
This year there is the potential for upset specials up and down the four regions, and below we’ll break down the five most likely. Pick them if you dare.
No. 12 UNC Wilmington over No. 5 Virginia
When big upsets occur, they almost always startle a big conference juggernaut that didn’t see it coming. In No. 5 Virginia’s case, the writing is on the wall. UNCW has a prolific offense while the Cavaliers rely on a stout defense. But Virginia is young and their defense can falter, as it did toward the end of the season. The 22-10 Cavslost six of eight, then won four in a row, but thenfell to Notre Dameby 15 points in the ACC Tournament. The Irish play very similarly to the Seahawks. Ranking 27th in RPI, 29-5 UNCW is better than a 12, and could do some real damage.
No. 14 Florida Gulf Coast over No. 3 Florida State
One of the most exciting upsets in college hoops history was when No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast, in one of its first seasons ever as a Division I team, shocked No. 2 Georgetown in 2013. The program has since become a powerhouse in the Atlantic Sun and have won 19 of their last 21 games heading into the tournament. They won the regular season and tournament crown and have their eyes set on upsetting in-state rivals the Seminoles. FGCU(26-7) scores nearly all of its points inside the arc and shoots over 57 percent on 2-pointers. Florida State (25-8) faltered in its conference tournament, dropping in the ACC finals to Notre Dame. This could be Cinderella part two if Florida Gulf Coast converts a high volume of high-percentage shots.
No. 12 Middle Tennessee over No. 5 Minnesota
The Gophers showed some big weaknesses in the Big 10 Tournament as they were picked apart by eventual champions Michigan. They barely average six more points than their opponents and have been OK, not great, against ranked teams.Only four times since 1985 has at least one No. 12 seed failed to defeat a five-seed in a single tournament and Middle Tennessee, ranked with the 35th best RPI in the nation could be the best bet for one of these such upsets. MTSUwent 30-4 this season and beat Vanderbilt by 23 points. According to fivethirthyeight.com they have a 48 percent chance of winning, among the best for any underdog.
No. 11 Xavier over No. 6 Maryland
These two teams are incredibly evenly matched, as Xavier sports an RPI rank of 36 while Maryland is 34th. The Musketeers are big and can rebound as good as any team in the nation. Despite going just 9-9 in the Big East, they played a difficult schedule and have a favorable matchup in the first round. Maryland relies on guard play, particularly that of leading scorer Melo Tremble. Battling in the below-average Big 10, Maryland has lost six of its last 10 games, a trend it will fight hard to buck when things tip off Thursday.
No. 11 Rhode Island over No. 6 Creighton
The A-10 has historically had a good track record in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and the Rhodies appear best suited to be the conferences representativein the Round of 32. No. 11 seeds in the tourney arejust 13-15 since 2010. Both Creighton and Rhode Island (24-9) made deep conference tournament runs and are playing some of their best ball. Each has RPI and BPI numbers inside the top 35, with Rhode Island boasting a 3-1 record against AP top 25 squads. They are also 10-2 in their last 12, in comparison to the Blue Jays (25-9) who are 6-6 in that span.